Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Rubio-Cruz Race is Problematic for Establishment Types

     Clearly, Donald Trump has caused a tidal wave in American politics.  Pundits at every stage have been wrong about the millionaire mogul’s imminent collapse.  Trump has been on top of the polls from the time he entered the race until a recent poll put Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) ahead. 

     Trump's impressive numbers and victories recently make him the clear front runner and pave the way for a seemingly inevitable nomination, though not without potential fractures.  A Gallup poll released in late January discovered that nationally, Trump has a 60 percent unfavorability rating. 

     Trump’s numbers in polls pitting him against other Republican hopefuls, while impressive for someone who has never held elective office, are based on a plurality of a crowded field that has winnowed significantly since Americans have hit the voting booths.  As the field has winnowed even more, it appears the quest for the nomination has become a three-way race between Trump, Cruz, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) (though Ohio Governor John Kasich is hanging on for dear life). 

     The important thing to look for in these numbers is where support will go once Governor Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson drop out. Trump and Cruz are essentially vying for the same type of voter, as reports have indicated, Cruz is trying to wait out Trump to sop up his supporters.  This means that if Cruz were to exit - an unlikely prospect but one garnering some attention given his disappointing results in voting contests recently - it is unlikely his voting support bloc would go to the so-called establishment lane now commandeered by Rubio (this despite his Tea Party roots).  With former Florida governor Jeb Bush out of the race, the majority of his support base and donor class have begun to coalesce around Rubio.  However, when adding up the poll and voting numbers, taking down the Cruz-Trump lane will be inherently difficult.

     For instance, consider the first two elections of the primary season.  In the Iowa Caucuses, Trump finished in second place with 24 percent of the vote.  The winner, Cruz, received 28 percent.  Following Trump, Rubio received 23 percent, Ben Carson received nine percent, and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has since exited the race, received five percent.

     In the New Hampshire primary, Trump finished first by a staggering 19 percentage points with 35 percent of the vote.  Next was Kasich with 16 percent, Cruz with 12 percent, Bush and Rubio with 11 percent each, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie with seven percent, and former CEO Carly Fiorina with four percent.  

     In South Carolina, Trump received 33 percent, Rubio 22 percent, Cruz 22 percent, Bush seven percent and Kasich seven percent.  

     In the Nevada caucus, Trump received an astounding 46 percent, Rubio 24 percent, Cruz 21 percent, Carson received five percent, and Kasich received four percent.

     When adding Rubio’s, Bush’s (when he was still in the race), Kasich’s, and Christie's (who also exited the race and was a one-time establishment favorite) numbers together in the first two electoral contests, they had received 30 percent in Iowa and 45 percent in New Hampshire compared to Trump’s 24 percent in Iowa, 35 percent in New Hampshire and Cruz’s 28 percent in Iowa and 12 percent in New Hampshire.

While the combined numbers are enough to beat Trump and Cruz - as can also be said in South Carolina, though, not Nevada - Trump and Cruz's combined numbers are significantly higher than the aggregate of establishment types.  This prospect does not sit well for many in the party.  

     Some have been saying for a while that for the good of the party, some must begin to drop out and throw their support behind stronger candidates to prevent a Trump nomination (or even a Cruz nomination as he is no friend of sitting politicians).  However, at this stage, this is seeming less viable. 
 
     Trump’s plurality, while impressive, is only that – a plurality.  However, his support continues unabated and that makes him the person to beat.  With Cruz running nearly parallel to Rubio, the Republican Party, loath to see Trump ascend to the nomination, has some strategic thinking to do.   

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